Gubernatorial Races, Independent Voters, and The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

According to the most recent voter registration numbers, Democrats in Oregon have around a 10.16% voter registration advantage over Republicans.  Democrats are sitting at around 36.66% of all registered voters and Republicans come in around 26.50%.  We have not seen a Republican elected Governor since Vic Atiyeh’s reelection back in 1982.  Pretty bleak picture for the Republicans in Oregon you might think, but let’s take a look at another state.

According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office, in early 2017 Massachusetts Democrats had around 34.03% of registered voters, pretty close to the number here in Oregon, but the real kicker is the Massachusetts Republican registration number, only 10.68% of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans.  Since 1982 though Massachusetts voters have selected a Republican Governor in 5 different elections, despite giving overwhelming legislative control to Democrats. Currently, Massachusetts has Republican Governor Charlie Baker, but their House of Representatives has 126 Democrats, 33 Republicans, and 1 Independent. The Massachusetts Senate has 34 Democratic Senators and only 6 Republicans.  

Massachusetts, a state that is measurably more Democratic than our beloved Oregon seems to be really good at electing Republicans to the Governor’s office.  Not to mention in 2006 and 2010 when Democrats did manage to get a Governor elected in Massachusetts there were strong 3rd party candidates that carried off more than 9% of the vote.

Since 2002 the percentage of the vote Democratic Gubernatorial candidates have won has remained pretty flat with around 49% on the low end and approaching 51% on the high end.  While these wins are comfortable enough, it is difficult to say that Democrats are running away with these elections. Outside of the time Republicans ran Bill Sizemore in 1998, Democratic candidates for Governor have had a ceiling at 52% since Governor Atiyeh left office.

Year 2016 2014 2010 2006 2002
Republican 43.45 44.13 47.76 42.75 46.16
Democrat 50.62 49.89 49.29 50.73 49.03
3rd Party 5.93 5.98 2.95 6.52 4.81

In my previous article
How Blue is Oregon Really?” I wrote about Democratic Statewide candidates in Oregon only getting an average of 47.5% of the vote.  Hillary Clinton was barely able to get above 50% of the vote here in Oregon.  Compare that to Massachusetts where Clinton received about 60% of the vote, and I fully expect them to reelect Governor Charlie Baker in 2018 regardless.  Maybe Massachusetts voters have a proclivity for electing Republican Governors in order to keep a lid on their more liberal tendencies.  Maybe Oregonians are just less likely to take a chance and split their ticket in our direction.  Or maybe Oregon Republicans just have not found a way to effectively appeal to independent voters.When Chris Dudley ran in 2010, the closest a Republican has gotten to winning the Governor’s race it is interesting to see that the percentage of the voter going for Governor Kitzhaber was not necessarily any lower than a Democratic candidate for Governor normally gets, but what is different is the number of voters going with third party candidates.  In 2010 less than 3% of voters cast their ballot for 3rd party candidates whereas in elections since then the number has been closer to 6%.

So if I am taking anything away from these numbers here today it is that as a party we need to have Republican candidates for Governor who can appeal to independent and non-affiliated voters in the same way that Massachusetts Republican Gubernatorial candidates do.  Whether that is through a change of rhetoric, pivot to specific issues, or through something more structural like opening up our primaries, I don’t know.  What I do know is that the election with the lowest percentage of ballots cast for 3rd parties is the year Republicans have been the most successful.  So whatever we have to do to appeal to voters outside our party and make the race a binary choice between our candidate and Kate Brown, we need to do it.